The cost of a divorce varies depending on the style of divorce you choose. From Collaborative Divorce to Mediation to Litigation, or even if you come up with the agreement completely on your own, there will always be documents that must be drafted to complete the divorce. Drafting of the documents is going to take the same amount of time and cost, regardless of what process you choose, with rare exceptions.
Where the processes differ, the most is how you get to the final agreement and how much time it takes to get there. In Litigation, there will be a lot of back and forth between attorneys, gathering documents and statements. You may already know the information and it may feel redundant to you, but you do not have much control over this part of the process. The attorneys are going to pull all the information they want, so that they feel the prepared to best represent you in a courtroom. Their role is also to dig for everything they can use to make your spouse look bad and you look good. You may also have several smaller court appearances (hearings) on the way to the full trial, each of which cost a lot of time and money to prepare for.
In Collaborative Divorce or Mediation, you and your spouse get to be involved in the decision-making in determining what documents are necessary. You also are working together, so you will not waste resources forcing the other one to track down documents. There are no court appearances in this process, which saves a lot of time and money. In these processes, the parties also often get to a point where they can make certain agreements on their own without the help of the attorneys and the professionals involved. This again helps the parties save money.
In Litigation, by contrast, the freedom for the couple to be involved in the decision making is rare. Litigation is set up in a way that leads to more fighting. There is no methodology for you to communicate, which often prevents parties from coming up with an agreement on their own. Any communication is done through the two attorneys only, which results in more legal fees for each person.
How do these issues factor into the costs? In whatever process you choose, you will be looking at roughly $2,000-$3,000 for the paperwork and filing fee.
From there, you can expect the average cost of a Litigated divorce—going all the way through trial—to start around $20,000 to $30,000 per person. That means your household could be spending $60,000 or more that year on the divorce process. Most attorneys will take a much smaller retainer than that (essentially a deposit), but the overall costs will be much higher than that initial retainer. The fees can go up from there depending on how many complex issues are involved, and how many assets, debts, and children issues there are to argue over, as well as the specific attorneys’ hourly rates.
For Collaborative or Mediation, we usually see numbers that are half of the litigation costs or lower (sometimes, much lower). The cost of a Collaborative Divorce or Mediation can vary greatly depending on how many sessions are needed versus what can be handled by the couple on their own without help. The best way to receive a cost estimate is to schedule an initial consultation with a professional. At that meeting, we can get a sense of the potential issues and how much professional support your case will need. In any event, you can generally expect the Collaborative Divorce or Mediation to be much less than a Litigated divorce.
Is it too late? If you have already started the litigation process by one or both of you filing documents with the courthouse, you can have the case dismissed or put on hold so that you can try Collaborative Divorce or Mediation. It is almost never too late to change over to another process if you both want something different.
Myah Kehoe, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Kehoe Moneyhun Law, LLC
319 SW Washington St., Ste. 614
Portland, OR 97204
2005 SE 192nd Ave., Ste. 200
Camas, WA 98607